Why Affirmative Action is Not a Synonym for Diversity

affirmative action, what is affirmative action, affirmative action plan

Let’s Define Affirmative Action

Earlier this week I got on my soapbox to provide some clarity around what is and what is not affirmative action. The topic is an important one for myself as a women but also as someone who has been responsible as an HR leader in creating and developing affirmative action programs and plans for many years in my HR career. You can click here and read my first post in my affirmative action definition series. My goal is to help define affirmative action for everybody.

What Affirmative Action Is Not…

  • A requirement to hire individuals in these classes into your organization over other more qualified talent
  • A calculation that requires you to hire “x” number of women and minority employees or be fined by the OFCCP
  • A hiring requirement or quota that forces you to hire only women and minorities

What Affirmative Action Is…

  • An extremely long document called an affirmative action plan that includes a combination of statistic evaluation, information about the location’s facility and surrounding demographics compared to your employee population and a plan how you have tried to improve to hire and promote protected classes
  • A statistical calculation based on a combination of your current employee demographics compared to the woman and minorities represented in the surrounding community’s demographic
  • A suggestion and encourages you to reach, engage, cultivate relationships and encourage diverse candidates to apply at your company
  • A way to broaden established hiring, engagement and recruiting practices


When we hear about Affirmative Action, it is more commonly associated with higher education. The use of Affirmative Action in the college admission process has been a hot-button topic for decades. Recent debate over Affirmative Action in education has once again forced it’s way into headlines. In HR, we know that affirmative action is commonly associated with affirmative action programs and annual AAP’s where we have to demonstrate our interactions and engagements with minority pools of passive as well as active candidates.

“Affirmative action is not about numbers or obtaining quotas. It’s not about hiring a required number of women to your organization” I told my friend. “It is numerical value that tells us, as employers, any opportunity exists to better represent everyone in a specific community.”

There are many qualities and talents that underrepresented classes and groups of people have to offer. By encouraging their representation and involvement, companies enable themselves and their employees to achieve higher success. Reporting, statistical analysis and engagement is only an obligation to reach protected individuals if you are a government contractor.

And so I got on that soapbox and told gave my college a lecture. It wasn’t wanted one he wanted or one I intended to give. Diversity is not affirmative action. They are not synonyms for one another. Your employees and board members should be representative of your business, your customers, geography and/or industry.  That’s simply diversity and just smart business. Innovation, change and greatness happen when we support and push one another. I’m not completing an annual Diversity Action Program as ordered by any government entity. That’s a completely separate thing.

Affirmative action is not an numerical obligation to hire or promote those who are protected. Affirmative action is measured by your actions to reach, engage and interview those minorities and women who are under-represented in your organization based on a company location or facility in comparison to its specific location demographics.

Be sure to check out part 1 of my affirmative action series. 


Posted in ,

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions



Pin It on Pinterest